The “Whine” List

So when your friendly bartender arrived in New York he put in a brief stint as your friendly waiter. It was in a famous midtown restaurant-saloon, as famous for its high-end clientele as its low-end service. Yes, that latter review is true because the guys they had on staff back then could just as easily have staffed Stillman’s Gym. These guys were tough, they were colorful, at times brusque and downright rude, yet in spite their knock-around styles and their “don’t piss me off” demeanors, celebrities and well-heeled Manhattan-ites visited nightly this gallery of rogues, abiding in full their abuse and all their antics. In fact it was observed by a noted columnist at the time, about this willing clientele, “They’re roughing it in a (Isn’t this quaint?) kind of way.”

Well one of those characters was a bartender named Aldo, the reluctant subject of this episode which, before his tale be told, demands this brief description of Aldo’s appearance. Having once been a pro wrestler Aldo was at minimum a daunting presence to behold. He was six feet a hundred, built like a stove, had hands the size of catcher’s mitts, a head the size of a desk-top and he moved with the gait of Boris Karloff’s Frankenstein. And just one glare from under his concrete slab of a forehead if you were trying to embellish your order with a couple of extras, could make you in that instant drop those extras. “You’re right, Aldo, no need to muddle the cherry, (heh-heh), what the hell was I thinking?” No, you didn’t fuck with Aldo and, as you are about to see, you didn’t ask Aldo to see a wine list.

On the day this story begins Aldo was already semi-boiling because he was serving day three of a week long sentence which means he was told to wait tables instead of tend bar. He’d apparently done something wrong the previous week, (either broken a couple of rules or a couple of heads whose owners had foolishly bugged him), and when you broke a rule as a bartender there, short of being fired, waiting tables was the penalty that was imposed. It was like being sent to the minors to work on your swing. Now forget the fact that the job description of a waiter and a bartender can in some ways be as disparate as night and day, but putting Aldo on the floor was akin to asking a fucking ditch digger to teach macrame. And so when this fish called Aldo was sometimes yanked from his familiar waters, left to flop helplessly on the dining room floor, disaster usually ensued and quite comically.

So on this infamous “day three”, half-way through the shift, when this guy and two beautiful women suddenly sauntered into the dining room and were seated by the maitre d’ in Aldo’s section, the first thing the guy said was, “Sir, may I please see your wine list?” Now we must take a brief side trip here and explain this mythical list for it’s as big a character in this story as Aldo himself.

The List was a simple nine-by-twelve card, laminated for protection, upon which lurked about nine or ten selections. And the staff avoided handling The List, dodging it at every turn, for fear they might have to explain what was on it. When one of the grizzled brotherhood was asked to go and fetch The List, (especially a bartender-brother acting as a waiter), a huddle would often be formed for a conversation like this…

“What did you say he wants?” “He wants to see the fucking wine list.” Get out!” “I’m serious.” “Hey, I don’t know where it is, just tell him what we’re pourin’ by the glass.” “No good, he wants to buy a whole bottle of somethin’.” “Aww, man, that’s bullshit. Tell him you can’t find it and if he still wants to know, take him into the back and show him the rack.” “What a bunch of shit, huh?” “No shit!!”

Get the picture, dear reader? Going to get The List was a lot like seeking out and handling a live grenade. I mean these were the kind of guys who, when asked what kind of sauce is served with the duck, (and this I actually heard), say, “Duck sauce!”

So when the guy from the party of three asked Aldo to see the wine list, Aldo, (who just wants to put down a beer and maybe a burger), backed away from the table as though he’d just been asked to shine this guy’s shoes. But fortunately for all concerned there was a waiter name Cigar Louie nearby (he worked with an unlit cigar in his mouth and was considered the brains of the outfit), and upon hearing and seeing what just went down immediately ran over to Aldo, deftly pulled him aside and said, “Take it easy, Aldo, t-a-y-y-y-k-e it easy. He’s not breakin’ your balls. A lot of guys like to do that now… ask for a fuckin’ wine list… they think it makes ’em look smart in front of a broad. I’ll get the list, you just keep your cool til I get back, okay?” “Okay,” grunted Aldo, so Cigar Louie went and Aldo did.

After Louie’s return and with the dreaded list now in hand, Aldo lumbered back to the table and delivered to the guy grudgingly his mysterious cargo. Then, after perusing the choices for what seemed to Aldo every bit of an Ice Age, (and the air was just as frigid), this guy eventually arrived at a French Cabernet which, handing The List back to Aldo, he pronounced with an exaggerated French accent. “Point to it,” barked Aldo, handing him back The List, not knowing whether a wine had been selected or he’d just been asked to kiss this man on the lips. And so the guy dutifully pointed and Aldo dutifully lumbered back to Louie. Louie then took the list, asked Aldo to point out the choice (himself no sommelier), and just as things were working their way toward some kind of smooth solution, the guy at the table set off an atom bomb.

Up til now not realizing that he’d done anything wrong (for in fact he really hadn’t under any other roof and under any other dining circumstance) he then unwittingly made the mistake of shouting across the room, “Excuse me, Sir, what was the year on that wine again?”

That’s it!” seethed Aldo, ripping away from Louie’s clutches and storming back to the table where he planted his massive knuckles into the red checkered tablecloth, leaned his massive desk-top a mere two inches from wine guy’s face and roared, “Did you say, ‘what year?’ What the fuck are you buyin’, man, a Buick or a bottle of wine???”

Dear reader, to exaggerate here for impact (or whore for comic effect) I’d like to report that after Mt. Vesuvius blew the devastation left in its wake comprised nothing but two trembling women, an empty suit of clothes on the chair and a naked man whose hair was on fire running up Third Avenue, but in truth that simply wasn’t the case. His hair wasn’t on fire and he wasn’t naked!

Over and out from Bar-land… See ya’ next week-end.

20 Responses to “The “Whine” List”

  1. 1 hypoglycemiagirl February 14, 2009 at 4:24 pm

    For some reason, I started picturing Aldo as a mix of Ian Kilmister and Hulk Hogan around halfway into your story.

  2. 2 Comrade PhysioProf February 14, 2009 at 4:45 pm

    Dude, what a fucking story! This phrase is magnificent:

    putting Aldo on the floor was akin to asking a fucking ditch digger to teach macrame

  3. 3 scribbler50 February 14, 2009 at 4:56 pm

    Thanks, Prof, much appreciated, my man.

  4. 4 goosenyc February 14, 2009 at 5:31 pm

    So colorful that story….I can just picture the lovely wine list…”laminated for protection” and the “grizzled brotherhood” that served as its faithful keepers.

    Dare I ask – what year was the French Cabernet…

    Can’t wait for next weeks post.

  5. 5 DuWayne February 14, 2009 at 5:37 pm

    That reminds me of my stint as dishwasher, at a really nice restaurant.

    There was a older couple in, having dinner with one of their kids and spouse. I was, happily on the floor when their wine arrived and the old man had his first taste. Because out roared;

    “This is a forty-five dollar bottle of wine?!? This tastes like shit!!!”

    Apparently, he wasn’t one for dry wines (neither am I). The floor manager was at that table in less than three minutes with a beer for the gentleman in question. Who apparently responded (a great deal quieter); “Now this is fucking service.” And while he liked the food well enough, he was heard to mention that it wasn’t $230 dollars good…..

  6. 6 scribbler50 February 14, 2009 at 6:25 pm

    Thanks for the kind words and as far as the year of the Cab I have no idea; but based on what I saw I’d call it The Year of the Dragon!

  7. 7 Stephanie Z February 14, 2009 at 6:31 pm

    Scribbler, I just have to say how nice it is when I realize, “Hey, it’s Saturday!” And even with the anticipation, I’m always pleasantly surprised.

  8. 8 scribbler50 February 14, 2009 at 6:50 pm

    Don’t mean to get all gooey, Stephanie Z, but that really is sweet. I mean it. Thank you very much.

  9. 9 Donna B. February 15, 2009 at 3:44 am

    Aldo can wait on me anytime, because I’m smart enough to order the best beer and the best burger. I don’t even need to see a menu.

  10. 10 Anonymoustache February 15, 2009 at 8:29 am

    I’ll say this again Scrib50—You’re talent for the narrative is downright Wodehouse-ian!! Simply beautiful.
    I should also add this — If you ever take a weekend off posting, you’re gonna send me into withdrawal (and I’m pretty sure I’m sure I’m not alone in this sentiment).

  11. 11 Anonymoustache February 15, 2009 at 8:33 am

    BTW, I also meant to add that I know a guy who owned ’78 Cutlass Supreme. Aged for 10-12 years in only the finest of winters, that car had a wonderfully complex bouquet and a marvelous finish.

  12. 12 scribbler50 February 15, 2009 at 9:55 am

    And I’ll say THIS again… thank you for your more than kind sentiments. Glad you’re enjoying the Scribbler’s scribblings.

    PS: (You mean I have to do this every week???)

  13. 13 isisthescientist February 15, 2009 at 12:13 pm

    That poor, poor man! A bit of advice for any man who might think similar behavior would be acceptable. There is no quicker way to ensure that you are getting no play from the domestic and laboratory goddess than to act like a tool ordering a bottle of wine.

    You are a wonderful writer, Scribbler! I can’t wait until next week!

  14. 14 scribbler50 February 15, 2009 at 12:27 pm

    Thanks for your words and thanks for checking in… my blog wouldn’t be complete without hearing from you. See ya’ next week-end!

    (Love that use of the word “tool”, by the way.)

  15. 15 d-a-p February 18, 2009 at 11:34 am

    the fan club is growing with good reason…i pictured the boxer primo carnaro or the big guy from barney miller…..i would have quickly ordered the buick…good job again..

  16. 16 Jim February 18, 2009 at 1:21 pm

    Scrib, A quick suggestion if I may – You have GOT to put a warning up on this kind of story! I almost had to replace my monitor from spitting coffee on to it! The others are correct, you have a great talent for writing, but this may be your funniest yet.

    As for Aldo, “The Rocketeer” was just on the other day and as soon as you started describing Aldo, I immediately thought of Lothar played by “Tiny Ron” Taylor, which made the story even funnier.

    BTW – Anonymoustache is correct, you better store some of these up so that you can take a week off. I don’t show up on the weekend because I save it for when I need a boost during the week. It would suck to miss that.

  17. 17 Juniper Shoemaker February 18, 2009 at 5:58 pm

    So on this infamous “day three”, half-way through the shift, when this guy and two beautiful women suddenly sauntered into the dining room and were seated by the maitre d’ in Aldo’s section, the first thing the guy said was, “Sir, may I please see your wine list?”

    Were they from Los Angeles, too?

    Up til now not realizing that he’d done anything wrong (for in fact he really hadn’t under any other roof and under any other dining circumstance)

    Granted. But, seriously– a laminated 9 x 12 card? Isn’t this the part when any diner with a clue goes, “Never mind. I guess we’ll have beer instead . . .”

    I’d’ve known better at age nineteen. And I’m one of those people who has no idea what people out of high school like to recreationally drink. I had to look up recipes for “Wild Turkey”, last time, and, upon finding them, my stomach churned with the memory of the one and only time I drank four Long Island Ice Teas . . .

    This blog gets better every week!

  18. 18 Donna B. February 20, 2009 at 3:40 am

    My favorite recipe for Wild Turkey calls for a glass.

  19. 19 scribbler50 February 20, 2009 at 1:32 pm

    Juniper & Donna:

    Atta’ girl, Donna, that’s tellin’ ’em!

    And thank you as always, Juniper, not just for your thoughtful comments but your “though-out” comments.

    A great week-end to you both.

  1. 1 Hooray for the little guy… « Behind The Stick Trackback on December 5, 2009 at 2:30 pm

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